More than two weeks have passed since Fidelity Investments confirmed that Charles Goldman will be departing the company – officially by the end of March.
Goldman and Fidelity may have moved on but many people in the RIA industry have not. I am reminded of how visceral the reaction remains as I continue to call people on other personnel moves — like Barnaby Grist to Cetera and Bernie Clark to the top RIA job at Schwab — and the conversation turns to Goldman.
The thumbnail story on Goldman, 48, is this: He became head of the RIA business at Schwab Advisor Services in May of 2007 after playing the number two role under its former president, Debby McWhinney. He abruptly left Schwab in November of 2008 amid a restructuring wherein his position was eliminated. Goldman was promptly hired [days later] into a newly created role of head of all advisory businesses at Fidelity Investments that included RIA custody, National Financial Services, and family offices.
Then history repeated itself a little over two weeks ago and he was departing Fidelity and his position was being deleted from the company org chart. There was no sign that Goldman had done anything wrong – in fact he already seemed to be producing results.
One former Fidelity executive put it this way: “He knew what had to be done to turn service around,” he says. “It’s definitely not the problem it was before he got there. That’s a pretty good one-year legacy.”
It’s interesting to note, however, that experts consider Fidelity’s actions to be understandable and sensible, too. Goldman’s job description had huge overlap with his boss, Gerard McGraw, and also Mike Durbin, who directly oversees RIAs and reported to Goldman. It made sense to streamline this structure by pruning Goldman’s position, according to Doug Dannemiller, senior analyst of Aite Group in Boston.
“Mr. Goldman’s position in Fidelity represented an unnecessary layer of management over the institutional businesses, National Financial and Institutional Wealth Services,” he wrote. “This move conveys trust in the individual leadership of these business units, and transforms the organizational structure to a more traditional one.”
A consultant added wryly that Fidelity made a rational move for other reasons: “They already had the Schwab blueprint.”
Rationales aside, many people can’t imagine how it is that Goldman is headed for the exit.
Certainly he is revered in the RIA business for his loyalty, smarts and for being the only executive to ever head up the industry’s two top RIA custodians. Many people at both Fidelity and Schwab speak highly of him as a person and as an executive. This includes people he worked with as well as ones who worked for him.
When I called former associates for comments about his departure two weeks ago, they declined to speak about him on or off the record, citing their friendships and high professional regard for him.
One executive sent an e-mail asking me if I would be willing to introduce him to Goldman as a potential hire.
For his part, Goldman sees the RIA business in a positive light.
“I really appreciate the relationships that I’ve been fortunate enough to build over the years and it’s been an honor for me to be involved in this industry,” he wrote in an e-mail yesterday.
People close to both Fidelity and Schwab believe that the ace up his sleeve going forward is that he made both the custodians he worked for noticeably better than when he arrived.
In addition, advisors – and especially many of the ones who manage more than $1 billion of assets under management – respect him and will take his calls. As one recruiter says: “He’s a huge rainmaker.”
Indeed, Debby McWhinney, who took over the advisory business at CitiGroup said in October that she was likely to move her company’s RIA assets to Fidelity in 2011. At the time the company had $30 billion of assets managed by 600 advisors.
It seems likely also that her longstanding relationship with Goldman may also have helped to give Fidelity the inside track.
Of course there’s a possibility that many people in the RIA business will work with him again in some other role – something that his e-mail seems to suggest:
“Because this industry is filled with so many wonderful people, I truly believe that the best is yet to come,” Goldman wrote.
People who know him best say that Goldman should be wary of taking jobs where he’ll have to play corporate politics as a manager wedged between other managers. Goldman enjoys leading and problem solving and he may be best in a CEO role, they say.